Both the Telegraph and the Daily Mail, the most hardline and extremist rightwing of the British newspapers, have very strongly written articles today on a report by the official watchdog, Information Commissioner Richard Thomas, that says the UK has turned into a surveillance society.
The Telegraph's Leader is particularly scathing:
History will record that the most baleful legacy of New Labour is not its alarming incompetence or its mendacity in the conduct of public affairs – shameful though they are – but the way in which it has destroyed our privacy...The Telegraph is right in this much, excessive surveillance should be anathema to all conservatives. Not too long ago it would have been conservatives too - true conservatives and not the "Party, uber alles" loyalists of the Bush administration - who would have been leading the charge against Bush's creation of a surveillance society and a government obsessed with secrets in America.
How did this country, for centuries a bastion of freedom, slither into this morass? Some answers are found in yesterday's chilling analysis of the "Surveillance Society" published by Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner. Mr Thomas is to be commended for ringing the alarm bells. While conceding that much official snooping is well-intentioned and can bring benefits, he warns that "unseen, uncontrolled or excessive surveillance can foster a climate of suspicion and undermine trust".
We have already passed that stage. New Labour has used the shock of the 9/11 attacks to launch the most sustained assault on personal freedom ever seen in this country outside wartime. It is not just the ubiquity of CCTV cameras or speed cameras – they are simply the visible manifestation of Tony Blair's obsession with control. It is the plans for ID cards and biometric recognition, the national DNA database (which even its own inventor believes is out of control), the computerisation of medical records, the national children's database, ever more intrusive questions proposed for the next Census. Taken together they are stripping us bare of any real sense of privacy.
...There are profound philosophical questions about the relationship of the state to the individual at stake here – and it is ripe territory for the Conservatives. They are right to say they will not proceed with ID cards: but that is just scratching the surface.
David Cameron is a liberal Conservative who professes a belief in small government. Who better to lead a full-throated and sustained attack on New Labour's surveillance society, which is fast threatening to turn us into a nation of ciphers, and a people without a basic right of privacy. [All emphasis mine - C]
I find myself wishing that were still the case but, alas, that kind of conservative seems in very short supply this side of the pond nowadays. I wonder whether we will ever again see such conservatives as the majority in leadership of the supposedly conservative Republican Party ever again? If not, how do real conservatives plan to rediscover their political voice and political power?